PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin put the pressure on Justin Tucker he even hit the field for overtime.
The Steelers won the overtime coin toss, but elected to defend the south end zone instead of taking the football. Why? The open south end zone is notoriously difficult to kick toward and Tomlin wanted to pin the Ravens deep.
His plan nearly worked, too. But after the Ravens defense forced a fumble, and gave Tucker a chance, his 46-yard field goal snuck through the left goal post to give the Ravens a 26-23 overtime win at Heinz Field on Sunday.
“I was a little nervous about the first half of the kick,” Tucker said. “I think it was starting straight at that upright. I know the previous kicks we had going in that direction, at least the longer one just before, had a little bit of a fade to it right at the end of the flight path.”
But Tucker’s kick, which appeared to be hooking left, veered back just enough right to give the Ravens an exhilarating overtime win.
Tucker, of course, said he had a little help with his kick.
“My dad sent me a text right after the game saying, ‘I think an Arc Angel might have blown that ball inside the upright, just a little bit,” Tucker said with a smile.
The 46-yard game-winner wasn’t his longest of the day; that was a 48-yard kick with 10 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 23 and push it to overtime. He made two other kicks in regulation, too, to lead the Ravens in scoring.
Tucker’s special afternoon wasn’t just relegated to field goals. The team had excellent kickoff coverage, aided in part due to Tucker’s placement on his kickoffs which pinned the Steelers deep in their own territory.
It’s another reason why Tomlin chose to kickoff in overtime instead of take the ball.
“Did you see our kickoff return in this football game?” Tomlin asked. “Did you see their kickoff team? Every time, they put the ball on about the two-yard line and Tucker hung the ball at about 4. 5 seconds, and we couldn’t get back to the 15. Why would I sign up for that?”
The fear that the Steelers had about Tucker gave the Ravens all the more confidence that Tucker would deliver when it mattered.
He didn’t disappoint, with two field goals at one of the toughest end zones to kick toward in the NFL.
“I asked [Ravens secondary coach] Chris Hewitt before he kicked it, I was like, ‘Is he going to make it?’” Thomas recalled. “He’s like, ‘Bro, this is the best kicker in the NFL.’ And just like he said, he made it."
If it weren’t for Tucker, who hasn’t missed an extra point or field goal all season, the Ravens could be 2-3 and fighting an uphill battle toward a playoff spot. Now, they’re 3-2 and headed toward a very winnable game against the Bengals next Sunday in Baltimore.
Tucker’s contributions to the Ravens scoring were the reason for the win. But even the NFL’s top kicker gets nervous for those kicks, even if every one of his teammates isn’t.
“There’s always nerves, butterflies, whatever you want to call it,” Tucker said. “I’d go so far as to say, in the smallest bit of time there, terror. You can be equal parts nervous, scared, confident, excited. None of it really matters. All that matters is that 1.3 seconds between the snap, the hold and when the ball leaves my foot.”
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